Computer Assisted Design (Sketchpad)

“The cinema camera doesn’t make movies; it allows movies to be made. It’s the creative people who make it real to people.”

Ivan Sutherland

Computer Assisted Design (CAD) uses mathematics to do the geometry and calculations necessary to draw and design. CAD is faster and more accurate than hand drawing.

Sutherland’s “sketchpad” software, part of his doctoral thesis, was the first CAD program. Literally, decades ahead of its time, Sketchpad enabled a user to tell a computer how to draw, place, and move geometric shapes.

Explanation of Sketchpad

As a professor at various University’s Sutherland became a “Johnny Appleseed” of modern computer science. Eventually, he influenced and trained countless computer scientists who went on to make groundbreaking innovations.

A small number of notable Sutherland students include:

  • Alan Kay, inventor of object-oriented programming and the single-person modern computer (Xerox PARC).
  • Jim Clark (Silicon Graphics, Netscape).
  • John Warnock, inventor of PostScript, PDF, and co-inventor of spline fonts (Xerox PARC, Adobe).
  • Edwin Catmull, texture mapping and computer-animation pioneer (Pixar).
  • Bob Sproull, virtual reality.
  • Gordon Romney, 3D rendering.
  • Frank Crow, antialiasing.

No computer or business historian would argue that Sutherland is not one of, if not the most important, seminal scientists responsible for the modern computer.      

Eventually, in 1964, Sutherland stepped away from academia and replaced J.C.R. Licklider as head of DARPA, during the time that DARPA invented the internet.

Demonstration of Sketchpad

Voice Over IP (VOIP)

Voice Over IP (VOIP) transmits voice calls over the internet, allowing people to speak to one another.

Invented in 1995, VOIP came about after countless seemingly more complex inventions including web-based video. Interestingly, the likely reason for the late invention date is incentives. Businesses believed that the internet would work well for broadcasting, displacing other technologies (they were right). Conversely, phone companies were not enthusiastic about a low-cost calling method beyond their control.

Israeli Alon Cohen recognized the ability to split telephone calls into the packets that flow through the internet. Subsequently, he formed a company, VocalTec Communications Inc., in 1989 and patented VoIP in 1995.

VoIP adoption was initially slow. Early adopters required special software and the sound quality was poor. However, by 2000, almost 25 percent of phone calls used VoIP as telecom providers adopted the technology.

Skype, which uses peer-to-peer VoIP, launched in 2003.

Today, virtually all phone calls use VoIP though most users do not realize the technology is powering their phone calls.

Cohen did well, with a successful 2006 IPO, but the bulk of economic benefit eventually flows to others. Interestingly, Cohen’s main business became working as an expert witness in VoIP patent trials.

Like countless other innovators on innowiki, Cohen studied under the legendary Ivan Sutherland.

Graphic User Interface

Computers “must be learnable in private… Kindness should be an integral part.”

Alan Kay

The Graphic User Interface (GUI) consists of windows, folders, icons, mice, etc… It enables ordinary people to use computers. Xerox PARC’s GUI vastly simplified computer use and increased productivity by making computers easy and fun to use.

Like the internet itself, it’s difficult to attach a single date on the elements of the Graphical User Interface (GUI).


Engelbart demonstrated many elements of the GUI at the Mother of All Demos. However, Engelbart believed computers should be large and shared. Looking towards the burgeoning mini-computer market, pioneered by Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), several computer scientists disagreed. Significantly, they thought computers should be personalized, easy-to-use, and fun.

Xerox had one innovation lab, in Rochester near headquarters, focused on copy machines. However, they wanted something far away both figuratively and literally. A lab that could peer into the paper of the future. Subsequently, with a big budget and a sprawling mandate, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) was created in 1970.

Xerox PARC hired some of the top researchers at the forefront of their field. No sooner did Xerox fund and set-up their experimental lab than several Engelbart researchers, already interested in this field, joined.

Besides the Engelbart staffers, computer scientist Bob Taylor joined Xerox to flesh out the work. Previously, Taylor saw Engelbart’s demo and believed it to be the future of computing. Taylor was a colleague to computer visionary Ivan Sutherland. Another Sutherland student, Alan Kay, also a proponent of an easy-to-use personal computer, joined Xerox PARC.

The GUI is Born

Larry Tesler and Tim Mott wrote the first modern word processor, implementing Engelbart’s copy-and-paste but also adding fonts, what-you-see-is-what-you-get typing, and stateless interaction. The latter innovation markedly simplified typing. Significantly, users need not first tell the computer what you’re trying to do.

Borrowing from SRI’s and Engelbart, and building on Bravo (see above), Tesler wrote a modeless word processor, the Gypsy Word Processor. It implemented a more robust version of copy and paste/cut that looks like what we use today. Subsequently, Tesler left Xerox for Apple in 1980. Dan Ingalls created bit blit, the technology enabling on-screen graphics that has little changed to modern times. Likewise, he also invented pop-up menus. David Smith was an engineer at SRI with Douglas Engelbart. Eventually, at Xerox PARC, he invented user interface icons.

Eventually, Xerox rolled these innovations into the Alto personal computer but never entirely commercialized the Alto. In late 1979, Steve Jobs visited Xerox PARC and took the innovations, and several of the people, back to Apple. Subsequently, they commercialized the work first in the Lisa computer then, eventually, the Macintosh.

Undeniably, Xerox PARC is arguably responsible for more innovations in software than any other single firm in history. However, due to gross incompetence at the managerial level, Xerox made virtually no money.

Xerox Alto Advertisement, 1972
Larry Tesler explains Steve Jobs visit,
“Everything cool going on at Xerox PARC”

Modern Computing v1: The Mother of All Demos.

On December 9, 1968, the modern world was born.


Douglas Engelbart, working for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) showed the future of modern computing to a roomful of people that, for the most part, understood virtually none of it.

In a tour de force, Engelbart introduced the world to video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, copy and paste, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, and collaborative real-time editing.

Additionally, he also demonstrated a new type of input device, a block of wood that tracked hand movement and had only three buttons. His team referred to it as a mouse, a name that stuck. Surprisingly, they worked with the computer interactively, rather than running a program with a set of data that then produced a result or stored the data on tape. Interactive computing was rare but not unheard of: Sutherland’s Sketchpad program was interactive.

Officially, Engelbart presented a paper entitled A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect. Unofficially, Engelbart referred to it as The Mother of All Demos.

Engelbart’s mentors included computer visionaries J.C.R. Licklider, Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and Larry Roberts, all working for DARPA. Eventually, Robert Taylor would go on to lead the development of similar work at Xerox PARC.


During the demo, about 1,000 computer scientists gathered in Melo Park, California. Markedly, two computers were networked together, one running the demo and another back at the office. With each innovation, Sutherland announced “Look what else we can do here,” a theme Apple’s Steve Jobs would pick up decades later as “Just one more thing.”

The vast majority used computers with punch cards in their daily lives. They watched Engelbart and, according to him, filed out without asking a question or saying a word. To computer scientists of this era, the technology looked more science fiction than anything real. Surprisingly to Engelbart, they weren’t sure what anybody would do with it.

Engelbart introduces and demonstrates videoconferencing

Engelbart’s research was sponsored by the Advanced Research Project Agency (the precursor to DARPA), NASA, and the US Air Force.

Most of Engelbart’s innovations lay in the lab until adopted first by Xerox PARC and, eventually, by Apple, Microsoft, and countless others. Engelbart never embraced the idea of individual personal computers — he preferred large central computers — and declined to participate in future work.

The Mother of All Demos